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Susan Butler: a poem

No end but God

Friday afternoon is needlework.

We are smocking rows of honeycomb and bullion into green gingham when every class

is called to the first ever emergency assembly.

Mother Claire stands at the front of the stage,

the complicated layers and folds of her black veil and brown habit straight and still.

Perhaps she commands us to pray.

Her silence flows into each child, along each form line, a slow flood that fills the hall. Between the top form girls I see Sister Frances and the convent Great St. Bernard

go past the windows, on their way down the convent garden to the cows.

The dog's tail swishes purple clouds from the Michaelmas daisies that carry the silence

up to the sky, on into space, into infinity,

which has no end but God.

I think about Russians, Americans, Cuba,

the herringbone-patterned floor that smells of wax polish,

the rows of brown coats and berets with little brown stalks, waiting on their hooks

for the hometime bell,

my mother leaning into the curve of her dressing table

as she puts on lipstick, presses another pink mouth stain into her hanky

before walking up to the station to meet me from the train;

all of it stopping, or not stopping, because someone prays.

Sue Butler grew up a convent-educated Catholic and studied medicine in the time of Women's Liberation and of having it all: husband and sons; a career in General Practice – which was the inspiration for her debut pamphlet Learning from the Body, published by Yaffle Press. In retirement she took up walking and writing and has been published in the Hippocrates Prize Anthology 2020, in One Hand Clapping and on the Poetry and Covid site.


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